Once you dive beneath the generally held dangers: violent crime, cancer, accidents, fire, etc., you arrive in your own heart’s private experience of danger. You know, the quietly held fears that are uniquely yours, grown in the soil of your own life experiences, watered by repeated circumstances that have left you anxious, perhaps terrified and acutely aware of what feels paralyzingly dangerous (paralyzingly is not a word, but I am using it as one…because it feels accurate to me.)
I would much rather tell you about some big experience I’ve had facing danger. A story about standing with my suitcase on a corner late one night in Istanbul, not sure where I would be sleeping, or about the time the Chinese police came and asked for my passport during a carefully orchestrated “mission trip” to Beijing. Maybe I would tell about the day Libby, my fourth child, was born and she almost died, or the time when we were driving to California and a tire blew out at 75 mph, leaving our mini van perilously perched on a ravine, threatening to roll down the incline.
Yep, any of those stories could easily be typed up and posted here.
The truth is facing danger for me runs much deeper. It’s generally preceded by my awareness that my heart wants to go numb and my words are getting stuck in my throat, or my head, or both.
Facing danger last week looked like standing in front of the mirror one morning, working to get close enough to see my eyelashes while not getting so close that everything was a blur as I applied my mascara, risking being in the moment and utterly honest with my husband. The words tumbled tearfully out of my mouth before I could shut them down, “I just need you to do 8 things you don’t feel like doing today simply because they NEED to be done.”
Clearly, there is more to that story, and why in the world I picked the number 8, who knows, but for the sake of this facing danger post just imagine what might provoke such a response.
The danger I feel about my own heart in its messy, tender, exhausted condition provokes feeling powerless and a huge propensity to run towards performance, pleasing or on some occasions a large handful of Cheese-Its. (Which in case you are interested contain 0 grams of sugar, based on last night’s health homework with my 11 year old). This is where the reality of facing danger is daily for me.
Facing danger requires bravery and courage and always leaves me more connected to my own vulnerability.
Being courageous when action or risk are required at work does not feel nearly as difficult as the bravery required to face the danger of excruciating vulnerability that comes from offering the deep truths that lay in my heart. The truths that if mishandled will leave me feeling alone, foolish and ashamed.
Recently I was told, “What you are doing is very dangerous.” My internal reaction was a bit contradictory…part of me felt jarred, as if I am somehow doing something wrong…the other part of me felt exhilarated, as if I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing. It was a statement that brought together the space of work and something deep in my heart.
I’ve spent some time sitting with those words and what they provoked in me; I began to wonder when it was that I started being a risk taker and doing what others view as dangerous.
I believe that I began to know there was something brave inside of me one year on a youth group trip as we hiked deeper and deeper into a canyon in northern Arizona. To continue to hike required jumping off a series of cliffs into the cold river that had carved out the canyon walls. It seemed that the further we went the higher the cliffs became. One by one the other girls dropped out and headed back to camp. I kept going, the jumping felt exhilarating and I loved it. In the end I was the only girl to finish that hike. I felt brave.
I realize that for me danger is present because something life giving is equally present. Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it this way, “As soon as there is life there is danger.”
The girl who kept walking deeper and deeper into the canyon, facing the danger of jumping from higher and higher cliffs is alive and well inside of me; feisty and fierce, she doesn’t quit easily, even though she does crave those Cheese-Its often.
Because, when danger comes it still feels threatening and I still feel scared.
And, the fierce one inside of me still jumps, nearly every time.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12). She is the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for 28 years, she is mother to five kids. After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is.